Story: Gay men’s lives
‘Gay is good, gay is beautiful; gay is angry, gay is proud.’ The gay liberation movement rejected shame and secrecy, and embraced coming out and gay pride. Activists fought for, and won, the decriminalisation of homosexual sex in 1986, and organised to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Full story by Chris Brickell
Main image: Delegates, Love Life Fono, 2009
The Short Story
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Through New Zealand’s history, many men have had intimate and sexual relationships with other men. Until 1986 gay sex was illegal, and gay men faced discrimination and disapproval. Many hid their sexuality. In the 2000s gay men were more visible, including five openly gay male MPs in 2010. However, gay men could still face prejudice, and sometimes even violence.
Relationships and social groups
Same-sex relationships may have been acceptable in traditional Māori society. Pākehā settlers on the goldfields or in rural areas were mostly male, and some had sexual relationships with each other. In cities too men met for sex and relationships, and groups of gay men socialised together. Particular bars and cafés became popular meeting places in the 20th century.
In the 2000s there were gay social events, and groups for gay professionals, gardeners and sportspeople. Some churches especially welcomed gay people, and gay websites allowed men to find information and meet one another.
Gay men and the law
In 1840 sodomy (anal sex) was made illegal, and from 1893 all sex between men was illegal. Gay activists in the 20th century fought to change this, and in 1986 gay sex was decriminalised. In 1993 it became illegal to discriminate against gay people, and in 2004 civil unions were introduced, allowing same-sex couples to have legally recognised unions similar to marriage.
From the late 1960s the gay liberation movement fought against prejudice and encouraged gays and lesbians to ‘come out’ (be open about their sexuality). Gay men organised to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to support people with HIV/AIDS.
Pacific Island gay men
Fa’afafine (men who live as women) were widely accepted in traditional Samoan society. However, some conservative Pacific churches opposed homosexuality. The Love Life Fono is a conference for gay and transgender Pacific people.
Some schools have gay support groups, making it easier for young gay men to come out. But gay youth can also face harassment and bullying at school.